Priorities galore, as reform ideas continue to emerge

September 29, 2008
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There have been a number of suggested priorities for the state of Michigan recently, but some of them don’t precisely mirror those pinpointed by Paul Hillegonds last week.

Hillegonds was one of the speakers last week at a Leadership West Michigan class held in Grand Haven by the West Michigan Chamber Coalition. That's the same organization that put together the West Michigan Regional Policy Conference the week prior.

The day-long class for business people was focused on public governance, which of course was one of the hot topics at the Policy Conference.

Hillegonds, senior vice president of corporate affairs at DTE Energy in Detroit, was a good choice to finish up the day on governance, since he spent 18 years in the Michigan House of Representatives, including service as Speaker of the House and leader of the House Republicans. When he left elected office in 1996, he served for several years as president of Detroit Renaissance, a nonprofit civic group of Southeast Michigan business leaders focused on economic development and public policy issues.

Hillegonds, who holds a law degree, regrets the fact that being tough on crime is a bigger priority in Michigan "than higher education." He notes the state’s incarceration rate and prison population is much higher than those of surrounding states, but Michigan’s crime rate is no lower.

He cited a poll of Michigan people in which 70 percent indicated they don't think higher education is essential to a child's success.

"We're still living in a manufacturing economy mindset," he said, after pointing out that Michigan was once well known for its high paying factory jobs for people with minimal education.

The first priority Hillegonds proposed was early childhood education, because those are the critical formative years of intellectual development.

"It's a very important investment the state needs to make."

While the state’s corrections budget has grown, funding for higher ed has been cut — a situation he would reverse if Michigan is to make the transition from primarily an auto industry economy to one that is based on knowledge and education.

Another of his priorities: "We need an urban strategy." He said there needs to be a revitalization of the core cities so they become places where educated people want to live — which helps attract employers who need an educated work force.

He said the state needs to restructure its tax system — but that doesn't necessarily mean abolishing taxes on business altogether. ("Get rid of the MBT" was the concluding battle cry of the Policy Conference.)

Pew legacy expands

Mary Idema Pew’s name will grace a new library on Grand Valley State University’s Allendale Campus, thanks to a “seven-figure gift” from Robert C. Pew II and his daughter, Kate Pew Wolters, in honor of their late wife and mother, who died in December. Robert Pew is a retired chairman of Grand Rapids office furniture manufacturer Steelcase Inc., a company his late wife’s family was instrumental in founding. He was involved in the 1960 start of GVSU, which Wolters serves as a member of the Board of Trustees. GVSU’s Grand Rapids campus is named after the Pew family.

Fundraising for the $30 million Mary Idema Pew Learning and Information Commons — which will replace the library built for a student population of 6,000 — is part of a $50 million campaign called Shaping Our Future. The campaign includes a new movement sciences building, engineering laboratories, student scholarships, faculty chairs, academic programs, the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies, and the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership.

The total price tag for the Commons is $70 million. GVSU is waiting for the state Legislature to appropriate funding.

“We know this library will ultimately benefit everyone in this region as it raises the academic achievement of Grand Valley students,” Robert Pew said.

Added GVSU President Thomas J. Haas: “The Pew family’s patience, persistence and vision spans the better part of Grand Valley’s history. They helped make us who we are, and who we will be. We’re proud to be a steward of their generosity.”

The next campaign

The Kalamazoo Chamber of Commerce is stepping things up a bit to focus on the future. Chamber board member Arnold Mikon, president and CEO of Tower Pinkster, brought past out-state relationships to bear and arranged for the gubernatorial “maybe” candidates to make a presentation Oct. 9. Yes, we’re talking about former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer and U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Holland.

It’s all business

Grand Rapids Business Journal not only launched a newly designed publication last week, but also launched a joint publication with Crain’s Detroit Business: Bridging 96 One Michigan. The e-newsletter combines reporting from the newsrooms of both Crain’s Detroit and Grand Rapids Business Journal and is e-mailed free to subscribers. Business Journal Publisher John Zwarensteyn called it the “biggest media collaboration concerning business in the state of Michigan.” He and Crain’s Detroit Publisher Mary Kramer note the audience represents the top business minds in the state, and hope it has a positive impact on Michigan’s economy.

The tried and the true

City Commissioner and social worker Rosalynn Bliss was awarded the first-ever ATHENA Young Professional Award by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce last week at the 19th annual ATHENA Award Celebration Luncheon. The award recognizes emerging leaders in communities with ATHENA programs.

The luncheon also featured the 2008 ATHENA Award presentation to Marge Byington Potter, director of the Detroit River Tunnel Partnership.

A story told at the luncheon signified an example of Byington Potter’s well-known and long-standing tenacity on vital local and state issues. When Teamsters President James P. Hoffa discussed implications of the sale of the tunnel with her, he voiced concerned about her being exposed to the expectedly crass language of the Teamsters’ members. She quickly allayed those fears by unleashing a not-too-uncharacteristic salty diatribe regarding deposed Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. Go Marge.

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